Apple Computers and Apple Corp end two decades of litigation

March 2007

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Apple Inc will now take full control of the Apple brand and license certain trademarks back to the Beatles’ record company Apple Corps for the Beatle’s companies continued use. The dispute dates back to 1980, when the late George Harrison noticed an advert for Apple computers in a magazine. In 1976 Apple Computer’s founder Steve Jobs had adopted a white apple on a black background – with a small bite taken out – as the fledgling company’s logo. Whilst now multicoloured this was very similar to Apple Corp’s own logo which was a ‘plump green Granny Smith’ apple. Harrison felt there was potential for trademark conflict between Job’s mark and Apple Corp trade mark. Apple Corp had been set up by The Beatles in 1968 to manage their business affairs from recording, merchandising and books. The legal battle over the trademark (both the name and the logo) will now end with the added carrot that Beatles’ tracks may now be finally available for legal download – and they are likely to be very popular! The sides reached a settlement in 1981 allowing Apple Computer to use the name as long as it stuck to computers, while The Beatles’ company would continue in the entertainment field. But as computers developed and their musical capabilities grew, the sides ended up in court in 1989, resulting in a new deal.  They clashed again when Apple Inc launched the iTunes download store in 2003, with the record label claiming the computer firm had encroached on its territory again. That case ended up in court last year. Apple Corps lost, with Mr Justice Mann ruling that the iPod and iTunes did not breach the earlier settlement because the services and software were merely ways of retailing and distributing music and nothing to do with the creation of the music itself. Apple have also settled their trade mark dispute with Cisco over the use of the iPhone mark.

See Law Updates  June 2006 Apple Computers survive assault from The Beatle’s Apple Corps: Apple Corps Limited v Apple Computer, Inc. (2006) EWHC 996 (Ch) 

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